Food insecurity has long been a problem in California.
The San Fernando Valley is not immune to this issue.
“Hunger is real, pretty intense to dire,” says Monica Loyd, CEO/Co-founder of Valley Community Fridges. The problem, she said, is not so much that there’s not enough food, but a “lack of accessibility” to food.
In an effort to help counteract this situation, Loyd and her fiancé, Jeffrey Holmes, launched the Valley Community Fridge in August of 2020 — a refrigerator filled with food where anyone in need can come and grab food.
The colorful refrigerator sits outside the door of the Toyin’s African Fashion and Market along the 9000 block of Sepulveda Boulevard in North Hills, and is constantly filled with all kinds of foods. Loyd or Holmes check it every day to make sure there’s food available for people who need it.
Concept is Expanding
The problem of hunger and lack of accessibility to food grew worse in 2020 as a result of the pandemic and the economic devastation it brought to many families. Feeding America (https://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/california) reports 1 in 9 Californians struggle with hunger. In Los Angeles county, more than 600,000 children are food insecure.
In the Northeast Valley, weekly food giveaways at the Hubert Humphrey Park in Pacoima often have long lines of people waiting — sometimes up to an hour — before the event begins on Thursday afternoons. And long lines of cars can be seen on Friday mornings making their way to the food bank at the First Southern Baptist Church in Sylmar.
The concept of community fridges began on the East Coast and later took hold in Los Angeles, where there are now more than a dozen. Locations include Hollywood, East Los Angeles and other areas of the city.
Loyd, who has worked with homeless services in the San Fernando Valley for several years, decided to open one here in the Valley.
The idea is simple. Community members can drop off food items here and there — even canned foods — that are placed next to the fridge. Those who need food can stop by and grab what they want.
People can also donate in-kind items and or make tax-deductible donations. Cash donations help pay for the electricity needed to keep the refrigerator running. Food banks and other nonprofits also help keep the refrigerator stocked.
“We don’t cover all the costs. We pay $100 or $75, about that range,” Loyd said. The other part is covered by the “host business.”
Loyd said they decided to place this community fridge in North Hills due to the enormous need in the area.
“There’s a lot of people in this transition point of being homeless, living in motels or on the street,” she notes.
Loyd said she has met all kinds of people when restocking the fridge, which was also donated by a small business.
“I just met a mother with five kids, but I’ve also seen single men and women. From teenagers to people in their 70s, every demographic,” she said. “(Hunger) is really that bad.”
She estimates that up to 300 people may use the refrigerator every week.
“We have to fill it every day or so,” Loyd said. “One hundred and fifty dollars can fill the fridge and that can last three days.”
They have also placed masks and hygiene kits there as well.
Her hope and plan is to expand into other Valley areas this year, putting other community fridges in Granada Hills, North Hollywood and Sylmar.
The main challenge is finding a “host business” willing to put them at their location. She also hopes to find organizations and churches that can help keep those fridges filled up and running.
While some businesses might initially be apprehensive about the effort, Loyd says the community fridge in North Hills is still intact, despite being located in a heavily trafficked parking lot. No one has vandalized it or damaged it in any way.
“It is very safe,” she notes. “People respect it.”
They also appreciate it.
“There are people who come and don’t talk at all. But others see me filling it and when we talk, they tell us their stories and they’re very thankful,” Loyd said.
That is her reward.
“We want to be staples of the community, liaisons of hope,” Loyd said.
The San Fernando Valley Community Fridge is located at Toyin’s African Fashion and Market, 9005-1 Sepulveda Blvd. in North Hills. It’s opened Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m.- 6:30 p.m. and Sundays from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow their Instagram account @valleycommunityfridges.